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Doorstop interview about COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Queensland lockdown

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt and Dr Lucas de Toca in Melbourne on 29 March about COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Queensland lockdown.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Good afternoon. I’d just like to welcome to our medical clinic, the Bluff Road Medical Centre, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mr Greg Hunt, Dr Lucas de Toca from Department of Health, and Mr Tim Wilson, the local member for Goldstein. Welcome to our clinic.

We’re honoured and proud and excited to roll out the COVID vaccine on the weekend. We delivered 240 vaccines in a five hour block in the weekend. It worked really well.

We were efficient. The team did a great job. I’d like to give a special thanks to our reception team for all the hard work they’ve done in the last couple of weeks. And the nursing team who were incredibly organised, and we GPs just fell into line.

So, we’re very excited to be part of the solution week one and very keen and excited to be part of the solution long term. And hopefully we can work well with the rest of the clinics and the Department of Health to be part of the solution.

Thank you.


Thank you, Nick. Tim?


Thank you, Minister, and thank you, Nick. And welcome everybody to the wonderful Goldstein electorate.

It’s a great privilege to be able to have the Minister here at the Bluff Road Medical Centre. We have many local residents that are obviously very concerned about the health over the past 12 months, and all the residents who are very excited about getting their COVID-19 vaccine.

We’ve heard directly in the community the wish to get vaccinated, and it’s wonderful to have a local medical centre with others that are part of the rollout to make sure that those Australians who feel vulnerable and have health conditions are able to get the support that they need.

So my role is really to say thank you to the doctors, thank you to the nurses at Bluff Road Medical Centre, Nick and everybody else who had been part of this initial stage of the roll out.

And thank you also for the work that you are going to do in the weeks and months to come, because you are at the frontline of protecting our community and local residents.

But also thank you, Minister, for taking the time to come to our community to obviously witness the vaccination, but also your leadership in continuing the roll out of the vaccine as part of the Morrison Government’s program to protect the health and well-being of Australians.


Thanks very much to Tim, to our doctors, Nick, and Joan, and Kachig and all of our incredible nurse and reception staff here at the Bluff Road Medical Centre.

What you’ve just done on the weekend has been happening around Australia over the last week. Our GPs have been administering vaccines already.

As of last night, 120,000 vaccines administered by our GPs in one week as part of a broader national rollout which now reaches 541,761 Australians, 762 after Dale’s has been included today. And I want to thank everybody who’s brought themselves forward.

I particularly want to acknowledge the work of the general practices around the country, and I’m joined by Dr Lucas de Toca today from the Department of Health to assist with the daily update. And Lucas is overseeing the general practice rollout around the country.

And let me make the point that already, we have already a thousand general practices that have been delivering vaccines. An extraordinary achievement was that despite the flood, despite the inclement weather last week, every practice that was due to receive the vaccines did receive the vaccines.

We’ve already had distributions this week, rollout continuing, and indeed distributions for next week have started today. So that process is underway as we expand from a thousand, two, three, four thousand practices by the end of April. And I think that’s a very positive sign.

I’d like to address events in Queensland, if I may. As people may be aware, Queensland now has seven cases in the current cluster. Four additional had been identified, one of which is likely to prove to be historic and is potentially the link between the initial outbreak some weeks ago and the current outbreak.

I have spoken with the Queensland Minister this morning, Yvette D'Ath, and offered our support, and the actions we are taking are as follows: firstly, we have authorised asymptomatic testing, which means that people can be tested without symptoms across the Brisbane region. That's already underway through the GP respiratory clinics or the Commonwealth respiratory and vaccination clinics.

Secondly, we have authorised – and I have authorised – asymptomatic testing in aged care facilities in the affected areas of Brisbane, and I have also instructed that the Commonwealth and Queensland Aged Care Response Centre be established.

At this stage, there are no signs of any infections that have been transmitted to aged care, but we are taking early, pre-emptive action to ensure that those protections are in place.

As we speak, the Chief Medical Officer who briefed me earlier today is conducting, leading the AHPPC or Australian Health Protection Principal Committee with chief medical officers and chief health officers from all states and territories. And importantly though, the message that Queensland has given is one that I would emphasise as well: vaccinations are considered a critical reason to leave home.

We would encourage all patients, subject to checking with their doctors, to continue with their vaccination program. So, if you are in the Brisbane area, please continue with your vaccination program, subject to your practice being in a position to do so.

And we understand that that is the case, and if there were any interruptions, we’d provide that advice. At this stage, as we speak, I haven't received any information.

I think it’s very important to put this in context. We know how to do this. Australia has had 53 days with zero cases this year already. We know that around the world we are at almost 500,000 cases a day. After having seen a peak and then a dip over much of the last two months, we are now seeing global cases rise again, particularly in Europe and eastern Europe.

And so, this pandemic around the world at approximately half a million cases a day continues to provide a global challenge on a scale we have not seen since the Second World War. So, against that background, the continued rollout adds to the protections.

We know how to protect ourselves and to contain, but we can only be fully protected once we are vaccinated, but also once the world is vaccinated.

So, it’s a two-part process, at home and abroad. On that front, I can advise that there have been 82,500 aged care residents who have now been vaccinated and, that covers over 795 facilities that have received first doses and 222 that have received a second dose.

Importantly, to re-emphasise our total national vaccinations, 541,761 and over 259,000 vaccinations in the last week, as we have brought on board the general practice program.

So, I think that’s extremely important, and that's indicating that this program is continuing to accelerate, as it will this week.

To provide more information, I will invite Dr Lucas de Toca. Lucas is a public health expert who has been leading the program for general practices and helped co-design with the AMA and the College of GPs, the College of Rural and Remote Medicine and Rural Doctors Association of Australia, as well as numerous GP webinars.

And what we see here at Bluff Road is what's happening around the country. Different practices are using different models, but, Nick, your approach, I think, has been exemplary, and they chose to do a block vaccination model over the course of the weekend.

Others will do it on a more regular basis during the week. But 241 vaccinations already, more to go and they will just keep going throughout the course of the coming months. Lucas?


Thank you, Minister. Thank you for having us here.

It's really exciting to see the reality of the program now that we've commenced the rollout. So, as the Minister indicated, Phase 1B of Australia's vaccine rollout commenced last week in over 1000 primary care locations including general practices like this one, GP respiratory and vaccination clinics, the Commonwealth vaccination clinics and several Aboriginal community-controlled services, making sure that First Nations people have culturally safe access to the vaccine.

General practice, Commonwealth vaccination clinics and Aboriginal health services or primary care is rapidly becoming the backbone of Australia's vaccination plan, particularly in this phase of the rollout that includes older people over 70, over 80, people with underlying medical conditions, significant disability and their carers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 55, and a group of essential critical workers, as well as health care workforce.

No one is best placed than general practices to identify support and provide access to people with underlying conditions, older people, people with particular vulnerabilities. And that is why we are ensuring that as many practices as possible over the next four weeks come online with a whole variety of models of care that we just described today.

Whether it is spread out during the week or in sessions over the weekend, practices know best how to organise themselves to reach their patients, and we have seen that happening over last week and will rapidly increase in the following few weeks.

All deliveries were completed, including across the flooded areas last week with Taree getting their delivery on Friday, which really closed up that first week delivery. And as the Minister indicated, deliveries for next week, for week three, have already completed where we expect more than 1000 additional practices joining from that point onwards. And then we will continue with that rollout until we have reached more than 4000 general practices.

All the GP respiratory and vaccination clinics and the Aboriginal medical services are being fully rolled out within four weeks of commencement.

The important thing is that we are seeing an incredible response from the public. People want to get vaccinated and are reaching out. It is really important that people understand that while we want to access the vaccine and we want to protect the community, as the Minister indicated, there are over six million people eligible for a vaccine in 1B. Which means that everyone will get it in the next few weeks, but not everyone will be able to get it at the same time.

So, go online, go to the eligibility checker and service finder that you can find on the Department of Health website. If you don't find appointments or you don’t find practices near you, check again in a few days because there’s more practices coming online every day.

There’s more appointments, thousands of appointments coming online every day, and as practices get added to the rollout, you will see more practices near you, and you will see more appointments near you that you can access.

What we have seen last week as well is many general practitioners proactively reaching out to their patients – their oldest patients, to the most vulnerable from a comorbidity chronic disease perspective patients and inviting them to come into their vaccination.

And that’s part of the model of this primary care led rollout; a combination of people reaching out to their GPs, but also being reached out to by their provider who knows that they need the vaccine.

So, be patient but keep checking because more and more appointments will be available. Online, always preferred, is available so that our hero receptionists are not swamped with calls. But there are several ways that you can access that. Your GP will reach out. You can call 1800-020-080 on the national coronavirus help line.

If you’re not comfortable accessing the internet, or directly with your GP. They’ll be able to indicate when and how you can get vaccinated. The key message here is that the vaccines are available, they’re effective, they’re safe and they’re free for everyone in Australia.

Thank you.


Thank you very much. Look, I’ll start with those online if that's alright. Steph from ABC.


Thanks Minister Hunt for your time. Just two questions if I may. First of all, what was your reaction to Anne Webster's claim that she was sexually harassed on the floor of parliament by a current politician and should any action be faced by that politician?

And Andrew Laming's just been on ABC Radio to defend himself. Should he be conducting such interviews given he’s on medical leave?


Sure. Look, firstly, I’m not aware of the details of Anne Webster's claim. They should be immediately pursued. I think that that’s very, very important that she’s entitled to be safe. Every woman, everywhere is entitled to be safe every single day.

In terms of Mr Laming, I haven't seen his interview. I will say this, that the actions of the Prime Minister in effectively terminating someone's career are strong, clear, powerful, decisive and immediate.

Okay. Claire?


Thanks, Minister. Just around the vaccination figures to date. Of the last week, it seems about 100,000 or more of the vaccines were done by GPs, does that mean that there’s 100,000

jabs from 1B and that the remainder of the 541,000 are 1A?

Are you going to be able to report the different figures for those two phases and when do you expect, I guess from that, 1A to be completed with both jabs?


Sure. So there’s 120,000 doses that were administered by GPs in the last week. So some of those - and different practices will approach it in different way, a booking in the Monday, the Tuesday, the Wednesday, others are doing it in block.

And so we're delighted - delighted - at the administration and particularly given the floods and the other circumstances, the pace at which that's been done.

The second thing is that we'll also provide information on 1A and 1B. We do expect, as we've said that the programs will be ongoing for the simple – and we've said on many occasions previously, for the simple reason that you will have people who are late deciders or were ill or were not available or consent hadn't been given and people will change their minds.

So what we’ll see is a progressive tailing down in those. And so far we’ve had an extraordinary result from 1A and then 1B this week, I think has been very, very strong.



Just sorry, just to pick up those - you can't say now how many of those jabs so far are 1A or is it the 540 minus the 120,000 delivered by GPs?


So what we would just want from the states, the vast bulk of doses other than the 120,000 are 1A. We just haven't had the daily figures come through at this point in time because we were just getting the state doses.

There will be some small number of 1Bs that are included in those but essentially it's the 540,000 is overwhelmingly 1A but for the 120,000 and we’ll get updated figures once that’s provide by the states and we’ll provide those.

Okay. Tamsin.


Thanks Minister. Just following on from Steph's question, is it appropriate for a Government MP who's on sick leave to be giving media interviews and just secondly, on Andrew Laming, given he’s shown a consistent lack of respect for women, do you think it is appropriate that he returns to the party room or would you like to see him resign from the Liberal Party or be booted from the Liberal Party?


Look, I will say this, I haven't seen the interview so I don't know the circumstances and I think.


That’s alright. But was it appropriate that he did an interview on sick leave?


Again, I haven't seen it so I’ll respectfully wait until I have those details. Moreover, as I would say this, that the decision to effectively terminate someone's career, the action that the Prime Minister has taken, was strong, clear, immediate, decisive and powerful.

And it's a very strong step. Other elements, so a matter that Mr Laming will have to reflect on and I haven't seen, as I say, today's comments that you've referred to so I'll respectfully follow those up afterwards.

Okay. Tom, AFR.


Thanks for taking our questions, Minister. In February, you and Professor Murphy told us about the possibility of using vaccine rings to quell new outbreaks, a contingency plan for looking forward as the vaccination rollout continues.

Is Brisbane an option, a possible candidate for that kind of use of vaccines, how would it work and what would trigger it?


Sure. Look, I’ve spoken with the Chief Medical Officer this morning. At this stage, given that it is a small group of seven in total, it has not been declared a Commonwealth hotspot.

But we’ll continue to work with the Queensland authorities. There are very significant vaccines already, prepositioned with Queensland and the Queensland Government has a large inventory that they are capable of drawing upon.

In addition, the general practice vaccination program is continuing and the aged care program is continuing. So, importantly, that provision is there.

If there were a significant outbreak, we’ll be guided by what’s known as the AHPPC or the medical expert panel. The Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kelly is chairing that as we speak.



Thank you, Minister. On the Queensland lockdown, do you still have confidence in Queensland Health, considering they’ve made quite a number of mistakes over the past couple of days, you know, saying there were parties of 25 people when there were not.

And what advice has Queensland Health given you and the AHPPC on potential spread?

GREG HUNT:         

Sure. Yes, I do have confidence in Queensland and Queensland Health. I think it's very important that we put aside all of the partisan differences or anything, federal and state.

All of the states and territories have developed very strong public health capabilities. In many cases, they were well in existence beforehand. All are very strong now in my judgment and on the advice of people such as Dr Lucas de Toca, and Michael Kidd, and Paul Kelly, and Brendan Murphy, and Caroline Edwards, and the incredible team we have. And Allison McMillan, of course.

And so all of that work has been done, so I think they're in a strong position to protect Brisbane and Queensland, and thereby Australia. And that confidence is something that is extremely important that the nation should have, Queensland should have, and Brisbane should have.

Easiest thing in the world would be for me to in some way provide a half-hearted answer. I have confidence in Queensland's ability to deal with this outbreak.

Then in terms of any additional work, the AHPPC is meeting at this moment. And if they recommend, we're in a position to implement.


Yes. Anyone that's been in Brisbane since 20 March has been advised to go into lockdown for the last three days, no matter where they are in the country. Does that apply to the Brisbane football team as well who are staying in Melbourne for the time being?


So, the health orders are general. Specific teams or events may be subject to particular orders. So I know that the AFL is working directly with Victorian Health, or the Victorian Health Department and with Queensland Health.

So they'll be having specific directions provided directly to them by the two health authorities. But I've got to say, my experience with the AFL last year is that they were a model, dealing with Gill McLachlan and Richard Goyder. They were just focussed on doing the right thing.

And you know, we’re not out of this yet. But we're well prepared and Australians know how to do this, and governments know how to do this. And so we’ll work through this one.

There will be- at a time when there's roughly half a million cases a day, it's inevitable that there will be cases from time to time. And anyone who pretends that there won’t isn't necessarily doing a service to the community.

And it's important for us in these roles within the community to know we're well prepared. There will inevitably be cases, but we know how to do this.

Richard and then Liam. No? Liam.


Minister, we’ve talked about a slow and steady vaccine rollout, which Australia is well positioned to do. Does the fact that Queensland is now in lockdown show that perhaps we should’ve acted with more urgency and got more needles in people’s arms?


Well, what we're doing is we're distributing everything that we can. So supply is dictating the availability.

And I would just note that, you know, already we've distributed over 106,000 doses to Queensland. And to their credit, they've already administered 59,000 of those.

So there's a significant amount which has been distributed just to that state, that one particular state authority. Another 65,000 coming to that state authority this week. So 106,000 already distributed, 59,100 administered by the Queensland Government, and another 65,000.

So the interesting thing here, of course, is that many people thought: well, we should just get our vaccines from overseas. We didn't trust that supply.

And I remember the discussions in August last year. There were those who said, particularly when we were talking with different companies: we’ll deliver. And we didn't know what the issues would be, but we just presumed that in an uncertain world there was a risk. And that's why we developed a sovereign vaccine manufacturing capability. And that's why people like Dr Nick, and Joan, and Kachig who are here are able to administer vaccines, because we developed the CSL capability as well as the international suppliers.

And we've had international supplies. Yep, there's been significant disruptions to the international supplies as we see right across Europe, as we're seeing in other countries.

But we have the security, and what that security has done as these supplies have come on board, we’ve been able to almost double our vaccinations in one week and we’ll continue to grow at a rapid pace.

Now, I think also there's Pat.


The initial target was 4 million vaccines by the end of March. What's your current best guess and will we have even passed a million by then?


Well, I think what we'll see is that that, of course, was dependent upon 3.8 million units coming from overseas; on 25 January, we revised that.

Sometimes, that 25 January revision is lost in the discussion, I'll put it that way. So that's well over two months ago that that was changed on the basis of a massive global supply disruption, and that was before Europe began to block the distribution of vaccines.

So, we'll see how the general practise rollout goes. Frankly, this last week was better than my best hopes, given the supply challenges in terms of actually literally physically getting it to people in parts of New South Wales and in Queensland because of the rains.

The distribution companies safely made sure that the distributions occurred. The doctors and the practise managers and the nurses were able to put them in place. And what we'll see is a continued acceleration of those vaccinations.

And we’ll judge the performance and we’ll continue to provide guidance. But the latest guidance I have is we remain on track for all of the first doses before the end of October, knowing again that as people come of age or people decide late, we’ll keep an ongoing program, which we've said on many, many occasions, whether it's through each of the phases or more generally, simply because some people will have confidence late.

They may have been ill. They may not have been in a position. They may not have been of age. But for everybody who is seeking the vaccine, our guidance remains first doses by the end of October.

Alright. Thank you very much, and we'll keep going.

Much appreciated.

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